One of the things I say to my students is: “You have a choice about whether you go to a place of shame”. On hearing this, their thoughts become almost audible:
“what do you mean, a choice? There’s another option?” This can be confusing, so people tend to resist the idea. It’s scary in there!
So, what’s another choice? Look with your heart, and you’ll see that there is a fork in the road. One road goes up over the top of the shame, and one goes under it.
Shame is excruciating. It’s like crawling on cut glass on your hands and knees! So, who in their right mind would want to delve under that!
Oddly, when my teacher shared this secret with me somewhere back in the nineties, I was able to taste a bit of freedom. In a matter of moments, it seemed, I could sense my body relaxing.
I still sometimes go straight to shame when something triggers me. The mass mind and the media are so potent that most of us have well worn grooves, eh? That’s what we’re up against. We need to stand back and look at a clear map of the territory.
Shame is so painful precisely because it resides in the outer layers of our personalities, where the energy is, shall we say, ‘crustier’. We suffer so much more when we resist the deeper feelings, when we’re trying to stay in our protective layers, where we believe we’re strongest, or more acceptable. Of course deep down we are strong, in a divinely vulnerable/messy, human sort of way. Whereas this mask of how we wish we were is rigid and hard. It’s also unsustainable. When you really sink into the density of shame, you can feel the effort it takes to hold on. How exhausting! We really are insane! Why would we not choose the warmer, fuzzier feelings?
So, guess what? You can choose to loosen your grip.
All I can promise you is that letting go will release roomier, more expansive feelings. By observing your feelings with compassion, what might start out as a strained tenseness in your chest and throat, with a few silent tears and very shallow breathing, could become a surrendering in your whole body to movement, shaking, noise, sobbing… Or you might roar, or burst out laughing!
Shame has a sharp, hard edge to it. Grief, in contrast, is a river of loss, a deep well of sadness. And why wouldn’t we have lots to grieve? Humanity has overwhelming grief about our planet that we can’t keep up with. We couldn’t have enough funerals to mark all of our collectively amassed losses.
When you feel deep grief, a wailing erupts from a primal place. It’s like the life force coming through a sapling that is to become a gigantic tree. If it feels true, trust it. It will lead you to fulfillment, and more immediately, to deeper breathing.
What you drop into under the shame could also be a deep well of joy! Sometimes, you’ll experience a softening, like butter melting, and maybe a few gentle tears. When we’re closer to our truth we lose our frozenness–there is no straining, only relief. We have forgotten what we knew as children about letting our feelings move through us like a storm that brings rain and clatter and afterwards, peace. The emotional landscape of an adult is more complicated. Some of us can fall sideways into a pit that seems to be right next to grief called “Low Self Esteem”. The feelings of loss can end up next to the feelings of “Less than”. It can become tricky terrain.
The good news (and my point here) is that if we’re intentionally choosing to discover those deeper, more cleansing feelings, then we become endowed with a sort of compass with which to better find our way. We’re familiar with the power of intention. We can make a conscious choice to dissolve the layers that keep us from that fountain of eternity.
As Eckhart Tolle simply states in “A New Earth“:
“Non-resistance is the greatest power in the universe. Through it, consciousness (spirit) is freed from its imprisonment in form.”
So I invite you not to strain or take the “High Road”, but to follow the river and the “Low Road”, where you will find real treasure. Under that denser energy that we call shame, is a pulsing life stream, which when liberated, will radiate through us and out into the universe from whence it came.
Catriona O’Curry is a consultant based in Tucson, Arizona with her husband, Bob. They like to travel to Seattle, B.C. and Europe in the summers when Arizona becomes a furnace!